Skiing the ‘Ring of Fire’
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Ted Mahon could not help but chuckle as rain pelted the windshield during his entire drive to the airport.
The mere sight of precipitation hardly was newsworthy – he was in Seattle, after all. Then again, the deluge came after a two-week stretch of uncannily sunny, dry conditions in the perpetually soggy Pacific Northwest.
“The bad weather started almost as soon as Chris [Davenport] said we were done,” the Aspen resident joked Wednesday. “Time and again, good luck seems to follow him around. He tends to get it when he needs it.”
There was little room for hitches during Davenport’s latest – and arguably most ambitious – project. The renowned Snowmass ski mountaineer and guide set out earlier this month to climb and ski 15 volcanoes in just two weeks during a jaunt through California, Oregon and Washington.
To pull off the “Ring of Fire Tour,” Davenport collaborated with sponsors and friends, a revolving-door group that included, among others, three-time Olympian Daron Rahlves, photographer Christian Pondella, Mahon and his wife, Christy, who in May 2010 became the first woman to climb and ski all of Colorado’s fourteeners.
He also relied heavily on Mother Nature, who apparently was more than willing to acquiesce.
“That’s something that just doesn’t happen,” Davenport said of his good fortune Wednesday, shortly after deplaning in Aspen.
“This was very rewarding and so much fun. We laughed our way across the Northwest for two weeks.”
And covered some serious ground. All told, Davenport logged more than 78,000 vertical feet and 141 miles.
“I took the punishment of the 24 Hours of Aspen, climbed Everest and trained hard for freeskiing contests and X Games medals, but those things don’t compare to trying to recover like this, day after day,” Davenport said. “The only thing I’ve done that even compares, from an endurance standpoint, was the fourteeners project [in 2006].
“When I think back on my career, one of the things that really stands out for me as the most personally rewarding and gratifying trip I’ve done was that portion of the fourteeners project where myself, Nick DeVore, Will Cardamone and others all piled into an RV for the month of April and skied 22 peaks. … Physically and mentally, that was very challenging. Pushing your body and yourself very hard and all sharing that experience together, that’s where the reward comes. … I’ve been searching for the right thing to replicate that feeling.”
He found it in the Pacific Northwest.
Davenport first pondered the idea after a group of friends traveled a similar route a few years back. For a 41-year-old who has cross-crossed the globe – in recent months, his journeys have taken him to Antarctica, Denali National Park, Chamonix, France, and even the summit of Kilimanjaro – venturing into relatively unknown territory was an alluring proposition.
“I’ve spent some time up there and skied mountains like Shasta, Adams and Rainier, but I’m not very familiar with the area,” Davenport said. “There was the chance for a lot of new experiences on a lot of new mountains, to discover a new part of the country.
“The fact that many of these volcanoes are still active, and being on mountains that are steaming – or breathing, you might say – is a pretty cool experience.”
With few commitments or expeditions planned for this spring, Davenport decided to broach the topic with Spyder’s vice president of marketing in September.
“As I was describing the concept of the trip, he opened up his computer and showed me this RV, one called the ‘land yacht,’ that the company had just purchased from Burton,” Davenport recalled. “That could facilitate travel, cooking, sleeping, everything. It kind of began there.”
The project officially was set in motion on May 5 with a 4,400-foot ascent of the northeast face of Lassen Peak, the southernmost active volcano in the Cascades.
In successive days, Davenport and company ticked off mounts Shasta, McLoughlin, Thielsen and Bachelor. The group plastered five red Xs to a giant map covering the back of the RV before taking a much-needed respite in Bend, Ore.
“The thing that gets to you in a project like that is the lack of sleep,” Davenport said. “You’re getting up at 3 in the morning, and it’s impossible to go to bed before 9 or 10 because you have to travel, you’re amped up and you have to cook some food. That starts to add up. As I like to say, the fuel gauge goes to empty – or at least gets close.
“When the alarm goes off and I wake up, I sort of go on autopilot. I kind of just jump out of bed, get the coffee going and get excited for the day ahead. That first hour in the dark, it’s almost like sleepwalking as I’m walking through the forest or skinning. … When the sun starts rising and my mind is coming awake, I feel sluggish, not that good. Then, all of a sudden, the engine kicks in.”
Recovering quickly was of utmost importance during an ensuing, brutal stretch that started with a one-day, north-to-south traverse of the Three Sisters – a 10,062-vertical-foot, 16.3-mile undertaking.
After a trip up Mt. Washington on May 11, Davenport and others reveled in the huge vertical relief and “incredible” corn snow on Mount Jefferson.
The Mahons joined Davenport on Mount Hood on May 13. Ted Mahon admitted he was not sure quite what to expect.
“To be perfectly honest, we went out there saying we’d buy plane tickets and hook up with them, but we could end up sitting around drinking coffee all day. That happened to a couple friends from town last year – they had two weeks of rain,” he said. “We were a little reluctant, especially because Christy has limited vacation time, but I had a feeling that when Chris put this together, things would work out.
“You can never stack up days and big objectives like this if you’re fighting the weather or coming back every day kind of beat up. That’s always a gamble. It always could go either way, but he nailed it. I don’t think he would’ve believed it if people living up there would have ever told him he could do 15 peaks in 14 clear days in a row.”
A day after Hood, the group slogged some 8,400 feet up Mount Adams. They were rewarded with a “smooth, corn run that went on for about 4,000 feet. That’s no exaggeration,” Mahon said.
After a cloudy morning and afternoon on Mount St. Helens and rest day in Portland, Mount Rainier became the next objective.
While the task seemed daunting – they had to climb 9,300 feet and cover 12.2 miles – the group opted to attempt to complete the peak in one day.
“Conventionally, people say spread it out, but that’s not Chris’ style, as we all know,” Mahon joked.
Added Davenport: “That push was tough – it’s more than two North Pyramid [climbs] from the parking lot, to put it in a local perspective. And it was cold that day, plus we had done four volcanoes in the previous four days. You end up running pretty lean and mean at that point, but I’m proud that all seven people accomplished it.”
Davenport accomplished his ultimate goal May 19 with a successful summit and descent on glacier-covered Mount Baker.
Pictures captured an elated group at the summit, as well as Davenport slapping one last X on the RV. Mahon felt fortunate to take part in the trip’s final leg.
“If you like this sort of thing, these mountains are really classics,” he added. “It’s fun to do stuff around here, but it’s also fun to travel to the Cascades volcanoes, which are on a scale double, and triple in some cases, what we have around here. They’re huge – you can see them from 100 miles away. … We’d often get to the trailhead and look at our altimeter and be in disbelief because it would be such a low number. Then we’d ask ourselves, ‘Wait, what is the altitude of the peak we’re doing tomorrow?’ Suddenly, it would amount to an 8,000-foot day. That’s more than the Grand Traverse, and yet you’re doing it day after day after day.
“It was an incredible trip.”
While he shared that sentiment, Davenport admits that the experience has left him pining for that next adventure.
“It’s kind of bittersweet. You know you’re at the end, and it feels great to accomplish this, but at the same time you’re left wanting more,” he admitted. “After we checked into the hotel in Seattle, I woke up the next morning going, ‘OK, what’s next?’ I did some yoga and went to the climbing wall to get some exercise. When you put your body through something like that, you can’t stop cold turkey. You have to keep going.”
Where he goes from here remains a closely guarded secret.
“It’s funny, after climbing Everest people said, ‘You’ve climbed the highest mountain in the world, so what do you do now?'” Davenport said. “It’s not about beating that or upping the ante – that’s a dangerous game. If it was, I’d be going to try to ski K2. For me, it’s about finding creative, interesting, rewarding trips and projects that are both fun and also generate interesting content and are interesting to the other skiers out there. … This trip fulfilled all those categories, absolutely.
“I’m as psyched on skiing and as motivated and happy now as I’ve ever been.”
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